Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the Taisho & Showa Era (20th Century) Japanese Kitchen


When I first arrived in Japan in the 1960’s many households still used an ohitsu, a lidded wooden container, to bring cooked rice to table. After scooping a small serving of steaming hot rice into a small cup and placing it at the family altar, mother would then begin to fill the bowls of family members...
father first.
Historically, rice has been a valuable commodity in Japan. Koku, a unit of measuring wealth came into use during the Edo period (1603-1868). At the time, one koku was 150 kilo of raw rice, the quantity needed to feed a single individual for a year. What would be the equivalent today? Hard to say. There are so many variables when calculating the cost of keeping a person from starving for a year. Suffice it to say that rice was precious – both as currency and as food.

The way in which ohitsu お櫃 is written, is very telling.
The first “o” is an honorific, used to demonstrate appreciation for what follows.
in this case it is a calligraphy with 3 components:


Ki hen, the "tree component," is on the left and indicates the item is made of wood.




Immediately to the right of the "tree" element is a form that resembles an upside-down “L” with a vertical line at the bottom. Combined, they look like a container in which something could be placed.

Within the “container” component is the calligraphy for “valuable.” Rice is indeed of great importance and value to the Japanese.